38 Popular Day Hikes2017-07-18T16:26:32-04:00
  • 38 Popular Day Hikes | Trails Map | Great Smoky Mountains National Park | My Smoky Mountain Guide

38 Popular Day Hikes in
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The National Park Service maintains more than 800 miles of trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Whether you are a novice with little-to-no hiking experience, or a 900-miler on the Appalachian Trail, the Smoky Mountains has a trail for you. Our list of 38 Popular Day Hikes helps you decide which trails suit you.

How do you know which trails are suitable for your level of experience and athleticism? Which trails have the features you want? We created a series of icons to identify specific qualities and features and assigned them to the trails.

For example, are you looking for easy day hikes? Look for the “easy” icon. Are you looking for a day hikes with waterfalls? There is an icon for that, too. You get the idea. Each trail on our list of 38 Popular Day Hikes has a photo with icons describing the trail’s features.

38 Popular Day Hikes: Trail Icons Defined

Difficulty Grade

Trail Difficulty Grade | Easy | Moderate | Strenuous | Trail Icons

The black icons with an “e”, “m”, or “s”, describe the difficulty level of the trail: easy, moderate, or strenuous. Hiking guides differ on how they grade a trail, so we use the most common grade on our day hikes. In addition, if we have hiked the trail personally, we use our own experiences to grade it.

Trail Types

Trail Types | Out & Back | Lollipop | Loop | Point to Point

The trails in 38 Popular Day Hikes fall under four categories: 1) Out & Back, 2) Lollipop, 3) Loop, and 4) Point to Point. The descriptions are fairly obvious. The only one that possibly needs an explanation is the point to point. The difference between an out and back and a point to point is that hikers can start at either end of a point to point trail.

Water Features

Trail Water Features | Waterfalls | Cascades | Rivers & Streams

Many of the 38 Popular Day Hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park have water features. No, not like the ones built by your landscaper; God made these. We highlight 1) waterfalls, 2) cascading water, and 3) rivers, creeks, or streams.

Trail Highlights

Trail Highlights | Fall Foliage | Wildflowers | Scenic Views | Historical Landmarks

The four red icons designate day hikes with 1) great fall foliage, 2) an abundance of wildflowers, 3) scenic views, or 4) a building of historical significance.

Horses, Dogs, and Bikes

Horses | Dogs | Bikes | Allowed on Trail

Horses, dogs, and bikes are forbidden on nearly all the trails located inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, there are a few trails that welcome one, or all, of these. When you see these icons, you know that your dog, horse or bike is allowed on the trail.

Foot Traffic Levels

Trail Foot Traffic Levels | Few Hikers | Not Crowded | Crowded

The foot traffic on the 38 Popular Day Hikes varies greatly. 1) Trails with our “single-hiker” icon are rarely crowded, and if you want to be alone on a trail, you should head for these. 2) Our “two-hikers” icon indicates that the trail is not crowded, but you should expect to see other hikers on the trail. 3) More than a thousand people a day use the most popular trails. Heavily used trails are designated by our “three-hikers” icon. If you want to hike with the masses, these trails are for you.

Black Bear | Great Smoky Mountains National Park | MySmokyMountainGuide.com

38 Popular Day Hikes

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is rife with hiking opportunities. With hundreds of miles of trails, you could stop just about anywhere along the roads and get on a trail. However, there is a better way to plan your hiking adventure.

We have chosen 38 popular day hikes to highlight. These trails offer an assortment of challenges, views, rivers, bridges, historical buildings, and more.

Being popular doesn’t mean easy or quick. A trail gets on the “popular day hikes” list because it is a much loved trail. It may be easy or difficult to hike.

Anyway, we hope you find a trail that entices you to put on the hiking boots, climb in the car, and get back to nature. Our 38 Popular Day Hikes is here to help.

2. Abrams Falls Trail

Abrams Falls is one of the most popular trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail is 5 miles long and is well traveled by more than a thousand people every day. Expect crowds throughout the year, although winter hikes will be less crowded. More than a few hiking bloggers have indicated that it is their favorite.

By |Tags: , , , , , , |Comments Off on 2. Abrams Falls Trail

3. Elijah Oliver Trail

This trail is a well used, one mile (round trip), out and back, beginning at the Cades Cove Loop Road. The surface is well maintained, consisting of compacted dirt and gravel. Since this trail is easy to walk, very short, located in Cades Cove, and has several buildings to see, it is crowded. You will never walk alone on this trail.

By |Tags: , , , , , |Comments Off on 3. Elijah Oliver Trail

5. Shuckstack Tower Trail

Fighting forest fires in the 1930’s was not as advanced as it is today, and having a bird’s eye view required putting a man above the trees. Park Rangers used these fire towers throughout the park to monitor the forest and report any fires. As technology advanced, the towers became obsolete and were abandoned. Many of the old fire towers have disappeared.

By |Tags: , , , , |Comments Off on 5. Shuckstack Tower Trail

7. Russell Field & Spence Field Loop

Although the trail is called a loop, it is actually a lollipop trail. As you begin your hike on Anthony Creek Trail, expect to see many other hikers along this crowded trail. Even though it is rated “strenuous,” it is well utilized. The loop encompasses four trails.

By |Tags: , , , , , , , , , |Comments Off on 7. Russell Field & Spence Field Loop

8. Lakeshore Trail | Hazel Creek Trail | Bone Valley Trail

The easiest way to get to the trailhead is to drive to Fontana Village Resort Marina and take the boat shuttle. You can top off your water supply and use the restroom before boarding for the short trip across Fontana Lake. I could live on a boat, so there is no other choice in my opinion.

By |Tags: , , , , , , , |Comments Off on 8. Lakeshore Trail | Hazel Creek Trail | Bone Valley Trail

9. Middle Prong Trail

The highlight of this trail is the water. Several beautiful waterfalls and cascades can be found all along the trail. While Abrams Falls Trail is by far the more popular trail, the waterfalls and water features of Middle Prong Trail are much better. If you want to see water, this is the trail you want to schedule.

By |Tags: , , , , , , , |Comments Off on 9. Middle Prong Trail

10. Metcalf Bottoms Trail & Little Brier Gap Trail

The historic Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse is just a short hike up Metcalf Bottoms Trail. Continue on via the Little Brier Gap Trail to visit the homestead of the last residents of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Walker Sisters.

By |Tags: , , , , , , |Comments Off on 10. Metcalf Bottoms Trail & Little Brier Gap Trail

14. Fighting Creek Nature Trail

The surface is a typical mountain trail of packed dirt with occasional roots and gravel. The trail is one mile long and nearly flat, so it is family friendly. Most people can complete the hike in 45 minutes or so. This is a great introductory trail for a hiking newbie. Look for it at the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

By |Tags: , , , , , |Comments Off on 14. Fighting Creek Nature Trail

18. Noah “Bud” Ogle Nature Trail

The 30 minutes allotted for walking the trail does not take into consideration the time needed for looking at the historic buildings. You could spend a couple of hours in total, depending how closely you examine the old structures. In the spring, wildflowers are in abundance throughout the property.

By |Tags: , , , , , , , |Comments Off on 18. Noah “Bud” Ogle Nature Trail

21. Rainbow Falls Trail

The wildflowers on Rainbow Falls Trail are amazing in the spring. The 80’ tall waterfall is spectacular after a long, steady rain. Rainbow Falls derives its name from the rainbow sometimes visible in the mist on sunny days. Rainbow Falls is also the highest single-drop waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

By |Tags: , , , , , , , , |Comments Off on 21. Rainbow Falls Trail

22. Trillium Gap Trail to Grotto Falls

Grotto Falls is located 1.3 miles from the Trillium Gap Trail trailhead. It is famous for being the only waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you can walk behind the falls. You will appreciate the cool, misty spot if you are hiking in the summer heat. Enjoy it, and be safe.

By |Tags: , , , , , , , |Comments Off on 22. Trillium Gap Trail to Grotto Falls

27. Porters Creek Trail

Wildflowers are in abundance at the trailhead and along the first two miles of the trail. Some say that a spring hike on Porters Creek Trail is unequaled in the Smokies. The best time to see wildflowers is from April to May, although the trail is open year round.

By |Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |Comments Off on 27. Porters Creek Trail

28. Charlies Bunion via Appalachian Trail

Charlies Bunion is a popular rock outcropping destination on the Appalachian Trail, primarily reached by experienced hikers. The hike is not especially strenuous, but a few drop-offs require careful attention. Our rating is moderate, although the second half of the trail is more strenuous.

By |Tags: , , , , |Comments Off on 28. Charlies Bunion via Appalachian Trail

29. Kephart Prong Trail

The hike to Kephart Shelter is 2.0 miles in each direction. Kephart Prong Trail parallels the Kephart Prong of the Oconaluftee River and is a nice place to enjoy the sites and sounds of the river. In addition, quite a few historical remnants remain from early 20th century buildings.

By |Tags: , , , , , , , , |Comments Off on 29. Kephart Prong Trail

30. Old Settlers Trail via Maddron Bald Trail

Old Settlers Trail has more historical remnants than any other trail in the park. Early settlers flourished in this area. Many communities were built, then abandoned when park founders took the land for the park through eminent domain. Although this hike is included on our list of 38 Popular Day Hikes, you may want to finish it over two days.

By |Tags: , , , , , |Comments Off on 30. Old Settlers Trail via Maddron Bald Trail

32. Smokemont Loop Trail

Smokemont Loop Trail is a beautiful hike with flowers, trees, and views. The summit provides great views of the surrounding mountains. Crossing the river requires a little dexterity and a smidgen of courage as the bridge is a single log, about 40 feet long and 2 feet wide. I read somewhere that it is the longest footbridge in the park.

By |Tags: , , , , , , |Comments Off on 32. Smokemont Loop Trail

34. Albright Grove Loop Trail

The old gravel road on Maddron Bald Trail gives way to a narrow forest trail about 2.3-miles from the trailhead as you enter a magnificent old-growth forest. The old trees reach to the sky and provide an amazing experience unlike any other in the park. You have almost arrived at Albright Grove Loop.

By |Tags: , , , , , , |Comments Off on 34. Albright Grove Loop Trail